any questions?

“Any questions” is one of those phrases that seems to add fear to most presenters, sometimes more than the performance itself. To effectively prepare for any questions that might be asked the presenter should consider that in the construction of the presentation itself, develop an understanding of the purpose of questions after a presentation and prepare accordingly. An excellent presentation should prompt questions but they must not be a source of concern to the presenter.

Neither the presentation nor the question time is a test of the knowledge of the presenter. The purpose of any questions is to allow a deeper understanding of the topic as presented. This is true for every presentation whether at a scientific meeting or teaching session. At no point can all knowledge be known, displayed or tested. This must be clear in the construction and delivery of the presentation. Never be afraid that delivering a presentation requires encyclopaedic knowledge, it is about opinion, insights or concepts. Detailed knowledge is best transferred in a document. not a presentation.

any questionsThe best way to prepare is to consider what questions the audience will have of the topic and answer those questions within the piece. It may be that questions raise themselves as this planning takes places but have no clear place within the piece itself. The good presenter will make note of these and determine an appropriate answer. Plan for the whole piece including any questions, not just the delivery of the p1.

The best advice for a presenter facing any questions is to remember that, as a speaker, you remain in charge, not the audience. Yours is the control, the option to accept a question and the time required to answer any questions. Remember as well that the chairman of the session or person introducing you is also there to maintain order and time. They will look after a speaker in the event of difficulties. As a presenter, maintain the position of authority given as part of the privilege of speaking. Importantly that means you should always insist on the last word. “And so, I would like to close by reminding you of my key message…”

It is good form and practice when asked a question to repeat it. This clarifies the meaning, allows all members of the audience to hear the question and allows the presenter time to prepare an answer. Remember the audience to whom the presentation (and this question) has been given and reply accordingly making every effort to utilise the structure of the piece as delivered including any motifs or themes and take the opportunity to re-iterate your key message. Be as brief as possible. Then seek another questioner.

Honesty is the best approach to answering any questions but keep a questioning mind as to the purpose of a question. It should only be about deeper understanding. Do not engage in controversy out with the original remit. Do not debate. Do not hypothesise or extrapolate even if invited. Remember that the time available for any questions and their answers is limited and that the interest of the audience is in the original message, not nuances and sub-topics. If a question strays out with this, it is entirely reasonable to respond, “Thank you for your question. I think that would be best dealt with between the two of us in the break.”

If there are any questions to which you have no answer, simply be honest. “I’m afraid I do not have that reference/ those figures/that paper. I will find the answer to your question and contact you with that information.” Offer to add it to the handout for all the audience. Never feel that your purpose is to hold all knowledge. It is better to be correct after the event than potentially make a mistake during the event. That is not the purpose of questions.

If faced with a comment and not a question, an exposition or flat contradiction of your point, be gracious but do not entertain a significant debate. Yours is the privilege and your opinion has been given primacy by the inviting committee whether that is an academic group or conference committee. Thank the speaker for their comments and acknowledge their position but repeat your opinion and if necessary, the justification for that. Importantly make sure that the last words spoken in the session are yours, not a contradiction from the floor. This is your privilege. If the speaker from the floor wishes to have their 10 minutes, they may apply next year.

If a questioner is aggressive, rude, or threatening defer to the chair, using body language but if necessary by direct request. There is no need to accept such behaviour whatever the status, intention or objection of the questioner. Be humble but firm and avoid entering into discussion.  Ensure you, as the speaker, have your point heard, not that of an audience member. “I understand that we disagree. Perhaps we might discuss this later. Are there any other questions? No, in summary, my main message is…”

The purpose of any questions is to allow a deeper understanding of your message as delivered. It is not a test of your knowledge nor the opportunity for the audience to get their personal message across. This privilege has been given to you. Be honest and deferential but keep up your primacy of opinion and end with your own summary of the key point. Discussions after are seldom as charged as you fear and you can always bring a friend. Any questions?

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marginal gains

Marginal gains across all aspects of a presentation will bring significant improvement in the perceived value of a presentation. This is about the maths of the p cubed concept where the value is the product of the component parts, remembering that for an individual audience they only see the one presentation. Strive to make marginal gains and the overall result will be significant.

marginal gainsMany presenters feel overwhelmed by the difference between their current state and that of their presentation heroes. The changes required to move from a standard powerpoint and delivery to keynote level delivery can seem monumental. It is important to understand that it is by incremental and thus marginal gains that such heights were achieved. Rather than expecting to leap directly to the mountain tops one should consider the next step in the process.

The first step in improving p1 is to reconsider the object of a presentation. It is about learning rather than teaching. Consider who the audience are, what are their needs of the information and this will change the construction of the message. Importantly though, this change must occur before setting off. The marginal gain is purely in turning to face a different direction. Extending the analogy of the mountain, it is about an entirely different route to the summit.

Marginal gains in the p2 will be achieved at the outset by considering purely illustration of the message rather than annotation. A constructed p1 will be supported by p2 if it adds to the message. Simply considering what might be added to that message will lead to construction of a p2 that is radically different than attempting to deliver a handout or a script or some horrible combination of the two.

Delivery of any presentation is improved by confidence. That confidence will principally be the result of practise. The marginal gain is achieved simply by this rehearsal; so very few presenters undertake effective, if any practise, most being confident only in their ability to ad lib from the bulletpoints on a screen. Confidence is felt in the message, in its illustration and expressed in its delivery. That confidence is transmitted to the audience and they will better respond and receive the message.

Marginal gains in the construction of the p1, illustration in the p2 and confidence in delivery of the p3 will bring about significantly improved presentations. Small changes are undertaken but they must be before the piece is constructed as attempting to re-route once half way up a mountain is never easy. Determine to make those changes in your next presentation as part of your route to excellence.

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Interview presentations

interview presentations

Interview presentations are perhaps one of the most stressful presentations delivered; there is more resting on the presentation than the just the facts themselves. The purpose of the piece is to assess the candidate’s ability to address a problem, define a solution and deliver an effective presentation. As all candidates have the same starting point, it allows for differentiation amongst them. Excellent presentations will not secure a job but certainly, offer the opportunity to set oneself apart from the crowd.

Shouldn’t all interview presentations conform to the expected “powerpoint standard?” Only if the candidate wishes to be identical to all other candidates. It is highly likely that almost identical presentations may be delivered, even down to the same ridiculous Microsoft blue wave, times new roman centre justified. Interview panels respond very well to candidates who show innovation, are able to express themselves clearly and can deliver effective presentations. There isn’t only one way to deliver presentations, be that the standard powerpoint or influenced by the p cubed approach. Interview presentations should reflect the candidate.

The same basic principles of #htdap apply. Review these from previous posts. The p1 must be constructed with a view to persuasion, highlighting insight of differing viewpoints but ultimately delivering a single, memorable message. The p2 should be clear, supportive,and with an identifiable theme. The delivery (p3) must be polished, engaging and completed, without question or doubt, in less than the time allocated. This may be the most important presentation ever delivered. Preparation for interview presentations is more than simply typing into powerpoint.

This presentation is your opportunity to persuade the panel that you have insight, that you can address problems and that you can provide the best solution to this problem. This presentation is not a place for false humility or generalisations. This presentation must highlight your specific talents and experiences as well as your ability to deliver a great presentation. This presentation is about presenting you. However challenging you find that concept, you must, for this interview, deliver the best version of you. Every other candidate will be doing the same. Make the most of the opportunity with an impressive interview presentation.

The topic of interview presentations is usually broad inviting the candidate to address many issues. Mind mapping is a helpful technique to explore the breadth of this. Consider the specific audience and their needs of that question. For a Consultant post, this audience may include future colleagues in the department but also disciplines allied to the post as well as senior managers and usually Medical Director or deputies. Consider why the specific question has been asked. Has there been a problem recently? Is this an opportunity for expansion? Is it topical? Research this as deeply as possible considering extensive resources including records from Management Group meetings, local Healthcare organisation minutes and communications, government policies and guidelines. What approaches have already been undertaken? What are the local constraints and obstructions? Look for a potential solution to the problem. There is a real value in writing an elevator pitch. Why should the panel listen to you? (above the others)

Structure an argument understanding the three concepts of logos, ethos and importantly pathos. Persuade the audience that you have an answer. Do not simply deliver facts. Pose a question, highlight problems with that and offer resolution. Highlight why previous approaches may not have worked, what alternatives exist and your chosen approach. Clearly, there is no perfect answer for such a group as each has its own priorities. It is essential to at least acknowledge these but ultimately deliver a single, clear message that highlights the candidate’s knowledge of the situation, their own personal strengths and the particular environment within which the new post works. Be specific and ensure that the answer to the question raised is answered effectively as you, the best candidate for the role.

Write out the p1, edit it and when the whole is clear, read it out to assess length. Vigorously edit the script until your timed performance comes in at 80%, never ever more than this. Remember this is about a message not a data download. Strip the piece to the bare essentials rather than trying to cram things in. Is there a theme, an analogy or a something that might unite the whole and make your message even more memorable? Why will this presentation stand out from amongst others on exactly the same topic? Be creative. Check with your presentation buddy. Read it out again and check for time. Never more than 80%.

Now illustrate the p1 following the usual rules but look for real élan. The presenter will deliver the message not the p2. Less is more in both the message and its illustration. Ensure consistency in font and colour and even consider using the local department colours and font in your presentation. Do not use the local template; you aren’t part of the team yet. Use only high quality images. Remember there is no need for a title slide that tells the panel where they are or what the topic is, or even worse, the date. Everyone knows. Make the starting slide your punch, your message, your question or challenge. Make the final slide your answer to that intial slide, often by mirroring that, perhaps with a subtle addition.

The use of presentation buddies is essential, they can advise on the story, the effectiveness of the media and your practised delivery. Call in every favour and use every contact you have to maximise your opportunity. Remember too that no presentation will please everyone. Yours is the ultimate decision. Practise must be rigorous and supported by effective reflection, edit and further review. It is best to discover before the interview where issues occur. Test the links, make sure the flow is simple and as soon as possible get rid of the script. Effective delivery of interview presentations secures confidence for the candidate and gives the opportunity to make a huge impression on the panel. The only way to achieve this is practise. Never ever read a script. Never try to learn the piece by heart. Instead use the images as place markers and prompts. The purpose of the piece is persuasion, not delivery of facts and this requires emotion, engagement and confidence. That confidence will come from practise, not from notes.

Take the opportunity to figure out the presentation space as soon as possible on arrival at the interview. This must be, as always, well in advance of the appointed time allowing plenty of time for changes as required but also to calm oneself before the interview. Determine a time what point during the interview the presentation will be made and prepare accordingly. Check personally the equipment and your presentation on that. Do not accept advice that, “It will be fine.” The preparation is as much part of the final delivery as writing the story; unrequested font substitution reflects on the presenter, not on the technology that forced it. Time is your friend. There is always time. The opportunity can be taken between candidates if required. Ask politely, but firmly. If there are problems, that are easily resolved, explain and ask for the opportunity. If there is any reluctance or difficulty, simply close the laptop and deliver without the p2. Do not struggle through, deliver on your laptop or cobble. Do not make excuses or talk down the presentation. Your preparation will cover this, the panel will be impressed.

Make decisions as soon as possible on how to choreograph the delivery. If in doubt, stand firm and tall.  Be aware of light behind you, poor projection or furniture. If necessary make changes, not excuses. Stand up, stand proud, stand still and take a deep breath. Smile and pause.Take your time and think about speaking clearly. Begin and deliver that practised first line to the chairman. Pause to allow the audience to engage with your question. This will raise questions that you are about to answer. Make sure you speak slowly and clearly. Ensure that every single member of the panel is individually addressed at some point in the piece. Remember about resting face. You have practised this many times, enjoy the confidence that brings. Remember the tips your presentation buddies have given you to smile, to relax and not to say “okay?” repeatedly. As you reach the conclusion, pause once again. You know the punchline. This is the most important line of your career. Once again, turn to the chairman. Pause and focus. And then clearly deliver your line. Click to the blank slide and stand still. Make it clear the piece is finished. Do not ever finish by saying, “Thank you,” or “that’s all I’ve got.” Relax. You have just delivered the best presentation you have ever done.




This is a link to MY last interview presentation. It was seven years ago on the topic, “The provision of general paediatric surgery.” Feel free to check out the presentation and the rough speaker notes. it’s not perfect, I would improve on it if I could BUT…I got the job!

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